Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In-Laws, Call of Juarez, and Magic Addiction

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Family: The in-laws are still here.
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Don't get me wrong, they are fantastic people and I love them a lot, but my wife and I aren't exactly social butterflies. We have a pretty good home routine and we like it, so anything that takes us out of it is a little tiring and potentially stressful… and that's before you take into account our oldest being here for the summer, on top of our newborn.
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The thing that's the real killer is that since they’re here from Russia, everybody kind of feels like we have to make the most of their time—I mean, they did fly halfway across the globe so I agree, but how often do you have to entertain relatives all day, every day? I don't know about you, but that sort of thing is pretty seldom for me.
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I'm tired now.
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Games: Started Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood on PS3 tonight. I was having a little trouble keeping my eyes open so I didn't play past the first two chapters. However, it definitely seems better than the first CoJ so far. It's still not a graphic powerhouse, but the visuals have improved and I'm always a sucker for a Western (or Western-ish) setting.
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The first chapter was pretty lame… it felt a little messy and confusing, and was the equivalent of a WWII trench battle set during the Civil War. Nothing special here.
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The second level was much better. After the main characters desert from their unit, they walk back to their Southern antebellum mansion and fight off the Union.
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The generally open design of this level (not open-world, just open) and the main characters traveling through it with fields and wooden fenceposts in the background definitely hearkened back to a classic sort of Southern imagery which I definitely appreciated, and it was kind of a trip just to be playing characters fighting for the South at all.
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At this point I'm not entirely convinced that the shooty gameplay will bring very much new to the table, but the unusual setting and gruff characters are keeping my interest.
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Games: I definitely recommend the recently-released Magic: the Gathering game on Xbox Live.
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If you’re a person who’s ever been curious about playing Magic but didn't know where to start, it's an excellent introduction to the game thanks to a series of very comprehensive tutorials and the level of automatic help that the game provides.
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If you’re a person who’s already experienced at Magic, you may find that the game is very limiting and feels unsatisfactory since the option to build custom decks is not available.
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Players select from eight pre-made decks and can re-jigger a few of the cards in them, but basically, play is limited to these eight. Although playing under these conditions feels a little like trying to write a novel using only the first five pages of the dictionary, the fact is that Magic is an extremely overwhelming pastime to tackle, and narrowing down the options was a very smart move given that it seems fairly obvious the entire reason this game exists is to draw more players into the world created by Wizards of the Coast.
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Reinforcing this theory, playing Magic over Live completely re-ignited my passion for the game.
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I used to play it heavily, and spent a lot of my free time designing decks, collecting cards, and combing local shops for new additions. For various reasons I basically quit cold turkey, packed up all my cards, and haven't touched the game for probably six or seven years. Maybe longer. After playing just a few rounds of this electronic version, all the old cravings started coming back and before I knew it, I had a stack of cards separated into color-coded piles in front of me.
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Interestingly, my seven-year-old was watching me play the game on Live, and instead of being completely bored way I thought he'd be, he was actively interested. He caught on to what was happening quickly, started asking questions, and eventually I had to pass him the controller and let him make my moves for me. When I mentioned that there were actual paper cards that went along with this game, his eyes lit up and the next thing I knew, the two of us were down at a local comic shop picking through a Commons box.
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The intricacies and strategy of the game are still beyond him for the moment, but he's got a really good handle on the basics and has been very into playing real tabletop matches with his old man.
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The Live version of the game may be kind of crippled, but it's still pretty fun and certainly served its true purpose-- brainwashing the people playing electronically and sucking them into the five-color card-fueled whirlpool called Magic.
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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pride and Point Lookout

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Family: The in-laws are still here from Russia, so since today was such a nice day (by anyone's standards, not just Seattle’s) the menfolk decided to accompany the ladies up to Capitol Hill.
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The women were getting their hair done, so to kill time, we were going to go to a nearby park after grabbing a cup of coffee and then all go have lunch together afterwards. It was a good plan, except for the fact that none of us realized that this was Pride weekend, and Capitol Hill is GLBTQ Central for the greater Seattle area.
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We got there fairly early in the day, but it was still unusually crowded. That should have been our first hint that a change of plans would be in order. The topless butch lesbians playing croquet and twister (!!!) in the park should have been our second hint -- not that any of us has anything against GLBTQ folks or Pride, we just wanted a parking spot and the chance to walk down the sidewalk to get some good Vietnamese.
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After the women were done getting beautiful, we were only able to get about a quarter of the way to our destination before the streets were either blocked off or just too crowded to navigate with two in-laws, an excited seven-year-old and a baby in a stroller… rather than pushing through it, we ended up wishing the Priders well and had Thai on the other side of the city instead.
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Games: I just completed the vast majority of things to do in Fallout 3’s new DLC, Point Lookout.
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Although I have a certain affinity for Operation Anchorage just because it's such a break from the Fallout norm, it's no secret that the first three add-ons from Bethesda have been less than impressive. However, all that changed with Lookout.
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Nutshell: It's huge, it's deep, and it feels a hell of a lot like the main game -- and this is certainly a good thing. It's not quite the ‘Survival Horror’ experience that some were painting it as, but there are certainly Horror elements and the expansion has its own unique flavor thanks to the murky swamps and deranged hillbillies, not to mention the scenic rocky coast and lonely Ferris Wheel rising above the rotting boardwalk.
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I got about eight hours out of my $10 purchase, and I could have put in at least another two hours, if not more. If you're looking for some advice whether or not to spring for this latest DLC, I feel totally comfortable in saying that Point Lookout is an absolute winner. Recommended.
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BTW, the review is in the can, look for it at GameCritics soon.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flash Update: I'm a Contest Finalist!

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Writing: Got some great news today – The Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association called to let me know that my first book, Speaking in Forked Tongues, was a Sci-Fi/Fantasy-category finalist in their 2009 Literary Contest.
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Winners will be announced at the summer conference at the end of July. Finalists like my book will be critiqued, and people taking the top prize in each category will receive some cash as well as face time with editors and agents.
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The person who informed me that I was in the running said that this year's SF/F category had some fierce competition, so my fingers are crossed and I'm hoping for the best… although even if I don't win, it's pretty exciting just to have the book be a finalist at all-- just having that little bit of validation is a great encouragement, and now that I know I have a reason to go, I'll be attending the conference this summer after all.
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It's certainly too early to celebrate anything right now, but I did allow myself a little “woo!
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…Now, back to the grindstone so I can get caught up with all of the deadlines I'm behind on.
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A Hell of a Week -- Some Quickies

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Been a busy week here at the homestead… missed a couple deadlines, missed my regular blog update, haven't met my fiction word count, and I'm a couple days behind on e-mail. Back when I was a kid, I really couldn't understand it when grown-ups said that there weren't enough hours in the day, but I'm living that phrase constantly now.
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Just some random bits here before bedtime:
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> My Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (DS) review will hopefully be posted sometime this week. I had meant to get it done today, but, well…
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> Look for a Steambot Chronicles Battle Tournament review (PSP) very soon as well. Hopefully this week also, but no promises…
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> If ANYONE knows how to beat the gorilla (jungle boss) in WiiWare's recent Cocoto Platform Jumper, for God's sake, please let me know how. This is completely humiliating, but I have to admit that I have no idea how to even damage the damn thing, and my son is losing faith in his dad's game powers.
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> Downloaded Point Lookout for Fallout 3 yesterday and I've been pushing through it slowly, but so far (completed two quests, have at least two more to go) I'm absolutely loving it, and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that at this point it is by far the best DLC that’s available for everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland.
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The quests are very interesting, the coastal landscape has a very specific feeling all its own, and it has the same sort of ‘go anywhere, explore everything’ feeling that I love so much about the main game. For those of you who are afraid to be early adopters, I can say that it chugs a little in spots, but it’s been bug and glitch-free the entire time, in contrast to the last few releases. I still have more to see, but at this point I'm pretty ecstatic. If you are a Fallout fan, this is strongly Recommended.
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> Just about done watching True Blood, Season 1 on DVD and I have to admit that I really don't get why it seems so popular. Is it just a current wave of vampire mania? I don't care for much of the cast, the writing doesn't seem especially clever, it's a little ridiculous how there has has to be at least one sex scene in every episode regardless of whether it makes sense or not, and if I was actually from the south I'd be completely offended by the way the show portrays everyone in the town of Bon Temps as dysfunctional, substance-abusing, loose. and ridiculously ignorant.
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Maybe my opinion will change by the time we get to the end (doubt it) but at this point I'm giving the books the nod over the TV show by a large margin.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day, Pork Recipe, Lair, and a Gay Dog

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Family: Today was probably the best Father's Day I've ever had in my life. It wasn't that my wife surprised me with tickets to Australia or that I won the lottery or anything, it was just a really great family-centered day.
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yes, it was
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When I woke up this morning, Whittaker was in a great mood -- all smiles and baby coos. The wife and I just hung out in bed, and my other son Rhys came to join us when he woke up.
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In case you're a newcomer to this blog, Rhys is my son from a previous relationship and lives with his mother quite a great distance away. I only get to see him three times a year, so just having my entire family together on this day made all the difference.
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Food: Speaking of today being a great day, one other thing that really put it over the top was the dinner.
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The wife and I were laying in bed last night and scanning Food Network. At around 10 or 10:30 pm, Paula Deen came on and started cooking some teriyaki skewers, and I'll be damned if she didn’t give me a fierce, nearly undeniable craving for the stuff. I was halfway tempted to run out to the grocery store and cook it on the spot, but my calmer side won over and we did it today instead.
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There were no leftovers.
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Here's the menu, with a quick recipe breakdown:
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Teriyaki Pork Skewers: pork tenderloin, trimmed lean and sliced thin – maybe ¼ inch thick, marinated for 2hrs in a mix of low-sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, rum, vanilla extract, molasses, brown sugar and water. Skewer them fairly flat and grill about eight minutes on each side, basting with the marinade liberally.
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Pineapple Salsa: green onions sliced small mixed with diced pineapple chunks in pineapple juice.
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Cucumber Salad: one cucumber (seeds removed) and sliced in C-shapes, ¼ of a red onion, and two diced tomatoes (jelly removed). Mix vegetables and marinate in a mix of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and white sugar.
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Cook up some steamed rice (Thai jasmine is my personal favorite) and you're good to go…
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Games: I gave it an honest try, but Lair just flat-out sucks so badly that I couldn't force myself to sit through it.
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looks great in pics, but plays like a broken, spazzy nightmare
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I think I got to the sixth or seventh mission, and things were just falling apart all over the place -- I mean, the dragon only seemed to listen to my control inputs sometimes, it was nearly impossible to tell where certain enemies were, and the camera was janking all like it was being manned by somebody in the middle of having a seizure.
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I seriously wanted this game to be good; I mean, what's not to like about giant dragons razing ground troops with streams of fire and taking to the skies at will, but this game is so fundamentally flawed, so completely broken from the ground up that there's just no salvaging it.
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I was hoping against hope that the analog control patch would resolve the issues that most people seemed to have with it, but this is one case where all of the naysayers had it absolutely correct. After sitting through as much of the game as I did, any reviewer giving Lair more than a 4 (*koff*Play Magazine*koff) needs to be taken out back of the shed and beaten about the head and neck with a ratings stick until they learn to tell the difference between what's good and what's bad.
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Like the Good Book says: spare the rod, enable the crappy reviewer.
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Misc: My dog is gay.
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I’ve had suspicions over the last few years that have been reinforced by a good friend of mine every time she's dog-sat for me, but proof positive came today.
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While visiting, a friend brought along her dogs, one male and one female (in heat, no less.) We were prepared to keep our male from mounting her female, but we didn't need to worry… my dog went absolutely crazy over this other canine penis in the house, and it was all we could do to keep him from violating the visitor.
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no vagina for me, thanks
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Seriously, it was absolutely ridiculous how hard he was struggling to get some quality time with the male, and how completely he was ignoring the female. It got to the point, in fact, that when I turned around for a few seconds and came back, my dog was performing what I can only describe as ‘muzzle fellatio’ on this new fellow as the female sat dejectedly in a corner.
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Everyone in the room was a little embarrassed at the slurping sounds, so we separated the two and sort of laughed it off, although we couldn't leave the two dogs unsupervised after that… not that we necessarily objected to the dog expressing himself, but we did have small children in the room and no one wanted to have that particular discussion today.
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What a wonderfully diverse and interesting thing life is.
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H.Wood (Face 374)

Friday, June 19, 2009

B2G1, Lair Totally Sucks, and Nervous Nellie's

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Games: This weekend is another one of GameStop’s heralded ‘Buy 2, get 1 Free’ sales, and being the bargain shopper that I am, I couldn't resist.
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I try to make it down every time the sale happens, but my biggest problem is that I can usually find two games and never a third. I leave empty-handed more often than not simply for the fact that I can't find that third game to make it worthwhile, but this time I got lucky.
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I guess.
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Picking up a copy of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction for PS3 was a no-brainer. I've been a fan of the lombax and his robotic sidekick since day one, and although I beat the game quite a while ago, I still didn't own a copy.
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The second sure thing was Lock’s Quest on DS. Sort of a quasi-RTS (but not really) that involves a character usually rebuilding and fortifying bases to stave off oncoming hordes of enemy robots, I had a great time with this a while ago and was glad to see that the copy I found today was in great shape.

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With these two games in hand, I was quite determined to find a third. There wasn't a lot that I wanted for a reasonable price, my oldest was with me and he was getting a little bit antsy, and the wife was outside with the baby, so I knew the countdown to go-time was ticking. Taking one more sweep through the PS3 section, I decided that it was finally time to give Lair another try.
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Put out by Factor 5, you may recall Lair as one of the most-hyped titles when the PS3 launched. The main idea is that you control a huge dragon and fly around fighting other dragons, burning things on the ground, and so on.
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Just from the description it sounds like a can't-miss, but it was savaged in the reviews at the time for a number of reason-- one of the primary ones was that control of the dragon was linked directly to the motion of the sixaxis instead of a more traditional setup. I tried it briefly and found the controls as atrocious as most said, so I quickly moved onto other things. However, I was aware that Factor 5 had produced a download patch that gives players the options for standard flight controls using the sticks, and considering that I needed a third game to get one free, I was willing to give it another chance.
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That was $18 wasted.
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Although the new non-motion controls work and do make the game better than it was, there are so many other things wrong with it that to call it anything other than a wet, dripping mess would be completely inaccurate. Honestly, I have no idea what the developers thought they were doing when they put this game together. I mean, the terminally flawed idea of basing the entire thing on motion controls aside, it was as if they had completely forgotten everything they had learned creating the lauded Rogue Squadron series.
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For example, at times it's practically impossible to tell enemies apart from allies until they start squawking at you to stop firing. There are no maps or on-screen indicators to let you know where enemies are, and the arrow in the top corner of the screen which is supposed to point towards your objective is rendered in such a way that it's extremely difficult to tell what direction it's even pointing in.
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There are scores of other problems with the game ranging from embarrassingly bad graphics (enemies on the ground look like orderly rows of LEGO people) and unexplainable dragon actions (move the stick left and it goes forward, or try and fly up and all you can see is the dragon clipping through the ground) and given the generally execrable quality of the title, it really puts the recent allegations of financial misconduct at Factor 5 in a whole new light… money for margaritas but not for map markers, eh?
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In other game news, I decided to send Red Faction: Guerrilla back to GameFly unfinished. I think I saw perhaps a third of the game, and felt like that was enough.
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Although I was quite impressed initially by the physics and the destructibility of the environments, it soon became clear that the game didn't have a lot else going for it. I mean, don't get me wrong… I'm not saying that it's terrible, but it follows the guidelines for typical ‘open-world’ design very closely and after having played quite a few of them, I need something a little more exciting than destroying buildings with a big hammer to get my juices flowing. Driving from location to location just to knock down a silo or barracks got old fast, and after not having played it for a couple of days, I felt virtually no desire to get back to it.
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Food: If you’re in Seattle and ever find yourself in the Ballard area, there is a little coffee and toast place called Nervous Nellie’s on the corner of 17th and 56th. It's easy to miss driving by, but it's definitely worth swinging back around for.
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The drip coffee is good (and after having been quite disappointed with the drip at a few places, this was a huge relief) but the real draw besides the caffeine is getting a piece of toast. I admit that it doesn't sound exactly thrilling, but they have some very substantial, hearty slices and they’re topped with all sorts of goodness. I've had the cinnamon toast a few times, and there is so much sugar and spice on top that it seems as though it was applied with a trowel. (In case you're wondering, this is a good thing.) They have a number of jams and jellies, and also have some Scandinavian choices like butter and cheese, or butter and caviar.
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One thing to be aware of is that they are debit-phobic and only accept cash or check (check?!? Seriously?!?) but to be perfectly honest, the toast/coffee combo has been so yummy that I've actually gone out of my way a few times to make sure I'm packing the right tender.
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Recommended!
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

fathers day quotes, fathers day greetings, fathers day sayings


Happy Father’s Day to all Dads, Grandpas, Great Gramps, Step-Dads, Uncles, Foster Dads and men who guide us through our lives. This collection of quotes is for you:


“Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.” ~ Anne Geddes

“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.” ~ Ruth E. Renkel


“A father carries pictures where his money used to be.” ~ Author Unknown


A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. ~ Author Unknown



“It is much easier to become a father than to be one.” ~ Kent Nerburn



“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong.” ~ Charles Wadsworth



“The first man a little girl falls in love with is her Dad.” ~ Author Unknown



“I've learned that a father's blessing can fill a son's soul to the brim.”~ Kelly Tobey



“The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.” ~ Confucius



“What do I owe my father? Everything:” ~ Henry Van Dyke



“The most important thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” ~Theodore M. Hesburgh



“When I measure myself I always use Dad as a guide” -- Author Unknown


“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” -Jim Valvano



“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection.” Sigmund Freud


“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” ~Mark Twain (1874)

He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. ~Clarence Budington Kelland


My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass." "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys." ~Harmon Killebrew


One father is more than a hundred Schoolemasters. ~George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs, 1640


Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope. ~Bill Cosby


Father! - to God himself we cannot give a holier name. ~William Wordsworth


Henry James once defined life as that predicament which precedes death, and certainly nobody owes you a debt of honor or gratitude for getting him into that predicament. But a child does owe his father a debt, if Dad, having gotten him into this peck of trouble, takes off his coat and buckles down to the job of showing his son how best to crash through it. ~Clarence Budington Kelland


A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again. ~Enid Bagnold


Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father! ~Lydia M. Child, Philothea: A Romance, 1836


It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. ~Johann Schiller


A father carries pictures where his money used to be. ~Author Unknown


When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. ~Mark Twain, "Old Times on the Mississippi" Atlantic Monthly, 1874


Dad, you're someone to look up to no matter how tall I've grown. ~Author Unknown


Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes. ~Gloria Naylor


There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. ~John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, 1994


It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't. ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams


It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder and violence every single day should be avoided entirely, but the desire to beget children is a natural urge. ~Phyllis Diller


Are we not like two volumes of one book? ~Marceline Desbordes-Valmore


The greatest gift I ever had
Came from God; I call him Dad!
~Author Unknown


Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone


Never raise your hand to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected. ~Red Buttons


I don't care how poor a man is; if he has family, he's rich. ~M*A*S*H, Colonel Potter


Dad, your guiding hand on my shoulder will remain with me forever. ~Author Unknown


There's one sad truth in life I've found
While journeying east and west -
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.
~Ella Wheeler Wilcox


Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away. ~Dinah Craik


Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later... that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life. ~Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities


Spread the diaper in the position of the diamond with you at bat. Then fold second base down to home and set the baby on the pitcher's mound. Put first base and third together, bring up home plate and pin the three together. Of course, in case of rain, you gotta call the game and start all over again. ~Jimmy Piersal, on how to diaper a baby, 1968

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Late to the Party: HBO's True Blood

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TV: Since the wife and I have recently re-joined Netflix, we've been trying to catch up on things we've missed. The most recent disc to ship from our queue was Season 1 of HBO’s True Blood.
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I was a huge fan of the books this series was based on. In fact, I can clearly remember finding Dead until Dark by accident as I was scanning the shelves of a local bookstore during my lunch break. I can remember where it was in the store, who was working that day, and I certainly recall how much of an impact it had on me.
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I thought Charlaine Harris had crafted an incredibly wonderful book, and if I had not read her work, I sincerely doubt that I would have been motivated enough to start writing on my own. She had such a down-to-earth style, so relatable and approachable, yet interesting and engaging on every level. I liked it so much, I even bought multiple copies and give them to friends, and that is something I almost never, ever do.
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Unfortunately, I felt that the books started heading downhill around the time Ms. Harris hit sequel 4 or 5, but my appreciation for the first few volumes will never fade.
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With all that said, I've been quite eager to see how the books translated to the small screen, and after watching episodes one and two, I'm kind of questioning my decision to watch it.
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Episode one left me especially cold. I didn't feel like any of the characters were particularly well-cast, and beyond that, there was something irritating or offputting about each one. Anna Paquin isn't even remotely close to what I had envisioned Sookie Stackhouse as, honestly.
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…And yes, I am completely aware that that sort of statement is commonly made by any fan of a book that becomes a movie or TV show.
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The whole vibe of the first two episodes didn't seem to capture what I liked about the books so much; Sookie’s personality, her human qualities, and how believable she was despite the fantastic situations that happen in the series. In the show, I feel as though she's almost secondary, or at least only as important as the rest of the cast, and not the central figure that it seems she should be. Other things seem off, like the incredibly overt lighting and the typical HBO motif of ‘add sex’ to every show, even if it's not honestly necessary. I'm not a horny teenager anymore and I have free access to the Internet, so I don't need people screwing on-screen unless it really fits.
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I don't mean to seem like I'm passing final judgment because I've heard from other people that the series gets a lot better in the later episodes and we are now moving onto the next disc, but the initial impression of the show left a fairly queer taste in my mouth. Hopefully the spirit of the books will be more accurately captured, or at least the show will find a rhythm of its own.
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…And yes, I am also completely aware that we are coming to this show quite late to the party, so if you've been following the series and are caught up on the episodes, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it develops.
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Jason Bought a Hatchet



Jason Bought a Hatchet - Giggle Party
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxl85Y_VSvM

Wow. I can't believe I can finally show you this. It includes all of the usual Rock 'n' Roll clich├ęs: dancing robots, decapitation, Mother Teresa, unicorns, pirates, Hitler, Sir Trevor McDonald... we ticked all of the boxes.

Co-directed with Stephen Wake.
Illustrations by me and glorious animation by Stephen Wake (http://www.stephenwake.com/)




Monday, June 15, 2009

Visits, Links, Commenters and The Book

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Family: Today was the first day of my oldest son’s summer visit. We've been on one visitation schedule or another since he was two, and now that he's getting older I feel like the whole thing is almost down to a science. He knows what to expect from us, we know what to expect from him, everybody loves each other, and it's all good. Seriously, I couldn't ask for a more fantastic kid.
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That said, it's still a bit of a transition to go from zero kids to a six-year-old (which was the case up until about a month ago) or to go from an infant to an infant plus a seven-year-old. Suddenly having another person around who’s been used to another schedule and a different lifestyle means instant acclimations for everybody… it's probably about as smooth as it could possibly be given the circumstances, but even still, the first two or three days after his arrival are pretty much devoid of any kind of productivity.
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Games: In case you missed them on Twitter or at GameCritics itself, here are some links to….
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Our most recent (and longest) podcast covering our E3 impressions
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And my official Prototype (360) review
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Incidentally, I'm not quite sure what the deal is, but my recent inFamous review racked up a lot of comments, only a few of them sensibly coherent.
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U R so not a profeshunal, U dint even talk about the amimashuns of the climbing!!!
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I haven't had this kind of weird reaction in quite some time, so I guess it's to Sucker Punch’s credit that they had enough people buy their game in order to have the half-baked and immature insult commenters come out of the woodwork in their defense.
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Kudos to you, Odofakyodo... You've got a hell of a lot more patience than I do.
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Started Red Faction: Guerrilla on 360 yesterday, and my quick impressions are mostly positive. I've never been a fan of the franchise but the demo for Guerrilla caught my attention and those same qualities that piqued my interest are quite present in the full version.
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Specifically, the level of destructibility in garages, bases, and other buildings is pretty impressive. The targets seem to react near-realistically to structural damage, and as far as I can tell, it achieves this particular effect better than anything else that's come before. Looking at the rest of the game, it's visually attractive, controls well, and seems fine enough for the most part.
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More like a streamlined GTA on Mars than anything else, really.
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I haven't spent very much time with it so far, but the only downsides I can see are that sometimes it seems nearly impossible to tell where enemies are firing from, and it may be my imagination, but I’d almost swear that enemies appear out of nowhere at times. Besides that, it seems a little tedious to be required to destroy certain amount of buildings before you can tackle all of the critical story missions in a given area. That feeling may or may not change as I progress further, but so far I've got a sneaking suspicion that it's going to get annoying before the game is over.
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We’ll see.
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Writing: The new book has been stalled for a few weeks, primarily because my son Whittaker was born, but also because my co-author and I had to put some light pressure on the brakes to make sure we were heading in the right direction. After several e-mails back and forth it seems as though we've got all of the kinks worked out and progress is about to resume. Of course, now I've got a newborn in the house and my other son here for the summer, so I'm not exactly flush with hours and hours of free time… still, all it takes is putting one word after another. We'll get there.
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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Interview with: Dan Eriksson, Producer of GRIN's Bionic Commando

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Games: If you've been reading this blog (and if you haven't, just scroll down...) then you will know that I was quite impressed with the recent Bionic Commando game, updated and re-imagined by Swedish developer GRIN. So impressed, in fact, that I felt motivated to track down someone on the development team and ask them a few questions about their superb effort.
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Thankfully, Bionic Commando producer Dan Eriksson was quite willing to chat with me for a bit about the work involved in reinventing such a classic game.
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Special thanks to Gunnar Johansson for arranging the interview, and to Matt Weise, Dan Weissenberger, and @thiefofhearts for their questions.
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Dan Eriksson, Producer of Bionic Commando
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As a Swedish developer, how do you approach a Japanese franchise and re-imagine it for a dominantly American market? Is there anything about the final game you consider Swedish? Is there anything about it you consider Japanese? How do these aspects mesh with regard to its intended audience?
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The whole idea with Bionic Commando was that Capcom wanted a game that catered more to the western market. That's one of the reasons they chose us to develop the game, another reason being our flexible and advanced proprietary engine. But that doesn't mean it has to be a carbon copy of other games, we have kept some Japanese feel to the game like the Biomechas, and the boss fights.I wouldn't say there's anything Swedish in particular in the game other than our sense of design and esthetics. I think the mix works very well, and it has given us more experience that we can use in new games.
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What was your philosophy in crafting the difficulty curve of the game? Do you feel it strikes a balance between old school design and newer gameplay conventions?
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A lot of us grew up with Amiga and NES games, which were generally a bit more difficult and demanded more from the player. Sadly it seems that the trend today is to "dumb" down the games and hold the players hand all through the game.This takes away too much from the game experience and the game feels more like an interactive movie than a game. We want the player to learn how to play and master the game, this gives a feeling of satisfaction when you complete the game.
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How long did it take you to refine the swinging mechanic into its current form? It only takes a few moments to become acclimated to, and it has a very instinctual, natural feeling. Was it quite difficult to nail such a crucial part of the game?
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Being the core mechanic of the game the swing had to be great. We have iterated over a lot of different implementations before getting it to where it is today. It has been tough to nail it and get the perfect blend of realistic natural swinging but easy enough to learn.
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Outside the swinging mechanic, how much was the team consciously trying to connect back to the original Bionic Commando in terms of things like art style, color palette, level design, combat mechanics, and so forth? Additionally, the orchestral score based on the original NES music is unforgettable. What was the vision or feeling the composer was after when updating for this new version?
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Trying to tie back the art style from an 8-bit "pixely" game is not an easy task. But of course we kept influences like the red uniforms for the enemies, the leader being german and then of course the pixilated collectibles. We also strived for a bit more colorful world than you're used to in current gen games, we wanted more color than 4 shades of brown. Especially since you travel very fast when swinging, it's crucial that you can distinguish objects swooshing by. The vision for the music was to get a more epic feel, but still keep the original theme.
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Throughout the game, there are many small touches which show a great deal of thought and care. Specifically, things like Nathan ducking his head when he's under fire, or the way certain bits of dialogue are randomly replaced at times. Can you tell us a little about the design process behind this, and whether or not it was a reaction to other current characters or character design?
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The ducking is our automatic cover system, we decided that we had enough features as it is, so instead of having an active cover system where the player has to press a button to get into cover, he will duck down behind object when he's in combat. Also, the enemies can be both above and below you, which can make it hard for the player to see if he's actually in cover or not.
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The way Challenges and Achievements are woven into the core gameplay was quite brilliant. How did you strike upon such an idea?
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It was just the natural way to tie them together.
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What was your vision for Nathan's character? He seems so sullen in cut-scenes, but so exuberant and chatty during play with his audible yells and comments. One theory we have is that it might be the “connection” between Nathan and his arm itself changing his mood and lifting his spirits. Was that at all intentional?
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Nathan has been imprisoned for a while for following orders. Being free and having his arm back makes him happy.Most cut-scenes involve "Super Joe" who was part of sending Nathan to jail, of course he's a bit pissed at him.
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In terms of story, could you tell us about how the plot of the game changed over the course of development, and what elements might have been left out? For example, there are some clips available online that show certain scenes not found in the final game like Nathan's wife in a canister, and so on. Additionally, several of us were left with the impression that the story was meant to be told from a soldier's perspective, meaning that the behind-the-scenes actions and certain parts of the story were held back because Nathan himself would not have been privy to them. Was this effect intentional, and if so, do you feel the story was successful?
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Being on tight deadlines there are certain things that needs to be cut or changed during development. So instead of cutting down on features or game-play, we had to cut down some story parts. All scenes in-game are either scenes where Nathan is present, or dream sequences about his wife. To fill out the blanks of the back-story there's a comic up on the website.
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Examining specific parts of the plot, was there ever discussion of re-inserting Master-D (a.k.a. Hitler) into the game? Groeder seems very Germanic and vaguely fits a similar role, although not quite. Can you tell us about the process of crafting this aspect of the story?
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We wanted a connection to the old game without repeating the story, that's where Groeder fits in.
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Can you expand on Nathan's motivation for the final scenes of the game? He seems very driven to find out more information about his wife despite actually finding some very telling pieces prior to the endgame. Is he in a state of emotional denial? Finally, the actual ending itself has been the subject of some controversy. Personally, we are great fans of its boldness and vision here, but the game ends on a very dark, somber note that caught many players by complete surprise. Was there ever concern about how this ending would be received?
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Even though he had an idea of what happened to Emily, he doesn't really know. He want a final answer from Joe. Of course we discussed the ending and knew it would surprise some people, but having that said, you don’t actually know what happened to Nathan.
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Certain reviews have taken a fairly negative tone with Bionic Commando, specifically in regard to things like the way radiation limits movement in certain areas, as well as the quality of the story. What does your team make of the criticism (specifically in regard to the way this new Bionic Commando is a reimagining of an older classic and not a brand-new IP) and do you feel it?s fair? What, if anything would you do to address these criticisms in the future?
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Everyone are entitled to their personal opinion on what makes a game good or bad. However when there's reviews complaining on stuff like: "it's not an open world sandbox game, so it sucks", feels a bit unfair. The game never intended to be an open world sandbox game so the critique is not really valid. It's like saying that GTA 4 is a bad game because it doesn't have a swing mechanic. It feels like a lot of the negative reviews expected a totally different game, and based their review on what they thought they game would be instead of actually reviewing the game for what it is. Of course we take valid critique seriously and take notes on what to think about in future games.
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Is there any talk of a sequel? Bionic Commando was one of the few games in recent memory that genuinely left me wanting more. Nathan seems like such a capable character, and there are so many directions the series could go. For example, the arm seems custom-made for tackling huge bosses, even larger than what we saw. More lengthy segments featuring the swinging mechanic itself would be quite welcome, and challenge segments similar to those found in Rearmed would be a treat as well. What can fans of this new Bionic Commando look forward to?
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I would personally like to see a sequel, however it's entirely up to Capcom to decide.
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Infinite thanks to Dan Eriksson for the words, and here's hoping that Capcom will see fit to grace players who know what's good with a second installment to one of the most enjoyable games of 2009.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

BC Interview Update, Three Reviews, and Persona PSP

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Games: Just confirmed my PAX credentials. Who's going?
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Also, I just wrapped up my interview with Dan Eriksson, producer of GRIN’s Bionic Commando. I liked the game so much, I just had to ask the guy a few questions. I’m putting the polish on it right now, so look for it within the next few days. In the meantime, here are a few tidbits to tide you over:
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My official Bionic Commando review
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And…
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The Fallout 3 review turned in by guest writer Simon J. R. Holmes
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The Ninja Gaiden II review by brand-new GC staffer Richard Naik
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Both of these pieces are pretty great reviews if I do say so myself. Check them out and let me know what you think.
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Finally, Atlus put out a press release today about the upcoming Persona remake for PSP. Here’s what it had to say:
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"Each and every copy of the game will be a premium boxed set and will include the game's full 2-disc soundtrack. In addition, we are able to confirm to series fans that in addition to the all-new localization, the 'Snow Queen' quest, game content never before available in North America, will be included in this new release."
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And…
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"Offering a second opportunity to experience the beginnings of the acclaimed Persona series, this remake boasts a fully relocalized script, revamped user interface, faster battles, expanded soundtrack, and new in-game movies with voice work added just for the North American release."
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Sounds pretty good to me.
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Liliana (Face 372)

Prototype and a couple of spoofs

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Games: So, Prototype came out this week.
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About a month ago, I started getting a serious open-world jones, and being as tight with my discretionary spending as I am, it wasn't really an option to buy both Prototype and inFamous brand-new. Naturally, since both games are basically the same thing in large part, the feverish comparisons began. Which one had more of what I want? Prototype had some killer videos out on the Internet to show the wide range of abilities, but I had total faith in Sucker Punch and have been a fan of theirs since the beginning.
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It was a tough choice.
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Luckily, thanks to some unforeseen events, I ended up not having to choose, after all. I got my hands on a copy of inFamous on release day, and if you've been following this blog or caught my review at GameCritics, then you'll know that I wasn't really too high on it after watching credits roll. Feeling pretty unsatisfied, it was hard to resist giving Prototype a spin... so I didn't.
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I've only put about two hours into the game, but so far I've got to say that it's been a much more rewarding and entertaining experience.
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Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not about to say that it's perfect… it's not nearly as polished as inFamous was. The graphics could definitely use some work, and there’s been some goofy clipping among other things, but the core of what's here is just better. For starters, the opening sequence of mayhem and destruction is colossally friggin’ epic. Talk about starting a game off with a bang....
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Moving on to other aspects, one thing I was really dissatisfied with inFamous about was the weak selection of powers. Not only were there very few, the upgrades weren't very impressive and gave me no motivation to work towards anything. Besides, most of them were basically guns in disguise. Prototype is the exact opposite. In just the few hours I've been playing, I've almost been overloaded with different kinds of powers and upgrades, and the variety is excellent Claws, shields, gliding, vision, airstrikes…. Seriously, there's tons of stuff your character can do.
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Along with that, I've got to say that Alex Mercer (Prototype) feels far more powerful in the first half hour of play than Cole McGrath (inFamous) did at the end of his adventure. The jumping, the wall-running, the absorption of enemies for health, the ability to disguise… it really feels like there are a lot of options at my fingers, and it's quite easy to start raising some hell in the city. After just a few upgrades, I took out an entire military complex, devoured every soldier within it, and watched the thing burn to the ground. It may not be very heroic, but it sure feels super.
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And hey, it's really nice to not be sniped from above every 10 seconds. I appreciate that.
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Like I said, I'm still in the very early stages of the game and I'm sure that I’ll have plenty of things to gripe about later on, but I will say that Prototype has been pretty damned fun so far.
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Kind of random, but here are some links to a goofy Street Fighter song and a spoof of Metal Gear that had me chuckling a few times. Thanks to Kate Zuparko for sending those in.
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I had a couple other things to blog about, but you know, I'm still trying to work my way through all the tutorials in Knights in the Nightmare. Gotta go.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

BC, KitN, PSN, Seaman, Freddie Mercury, and Scripts

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Food: Fried chicken tacos and cream cake do not belong in the human stomach at the same time.
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Games: Have I mentioned yet that I love GRIN’s Bionic Commando? Love. It.
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If you haven't given it a spin yet, don't be scared off by the overly-negative reviews and see what it's got to offer. Despite finishing it a few days ago, I still can't get it out of my head. And the ending? Although it's been categorized as completely random and nonsensical, I didn't find that to be true at all… I'm not going to spoil it, but I thought it was pretty amazing for a few reasons.
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Bad. Ass.
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Love! Bionic! Commando!
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Got a copy of Atlus’ Knights in the Nightmare today. The common theme going around is that the game has an incredibly steep learning curve, allegedly taking more than an hour to just get the game basics down.
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Curvy?
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That definitely sounds a little heavy, but the game was crafted by Sting, and I've loved everything else they've done. Hour-long tutorials be damned, I am more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Impressions to come.
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More and more stories are leaking out about how Molyneux’s Milo presentation at the Microsoft E3 press briefing was not nearly as legit as they wanted us to think it was. Honestly, considering Molyneux himself and the attempts to show Milo has some sort of revolutionary AI conversation construct, I'm not surprised.
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Although what was on display may not have been on the up and up, I'm still fascinated by this sort of development. I actualy have very fond memories of Seaman on the Dreamcast, and Milo seems like nothing if not Seaman minus the aquatic element.
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Sparkling conversationalist.
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I realize that recommending someone go out and find a copy of Seaman and a Dreamcast to play on is a pretty tall order, but if you ever get the chance, definitely try it. It was an extremely clever piece of software, and some of the “conversations” I had with it were fairly unforgettable. That game-that-wasn’t-a-game was way, way, way ahead of its time.
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Played Trash Panic and Rag Doll Kung Fu on PSN today. Both were extremely disappointing wastes of time.
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Rag Doll was a loose multiplayer mess, and although I thought Trash Panic has good ideas and an appealing aesthetic, the gameplay just isn't there. Dropping bits of trash into a can which sometimes seem to display physics properties and sometimes don't isn't quite as intuitive and fun as Tetris, not to mention the stack-reducing mechanics (fire, decomposition, etc) are not at all reliable. The best puzzle games are built on reliability. This one's got the concept, but no starch to back it up.
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Oh, and in case you missed it, here's a link to my inFAMOUS review.
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Music: I’ve been a Queen fan for many, many years, although I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I've only owned one album all this time. Deciding to rectify the problem, the wife and I picked up one of their greatest hits CDs a couple days ago, and it’s been in constant rotation ever since. My current obsession: Don’t Stop Me Now.
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58CJih1iYC0
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The sound quality’s a little sketchy, but check it out and see if you get as pumped as I do.
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Missed.
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Listening to it, all I can think is that Freddie Mercury was taken way, way too soon.
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Writing: Met with a fellow writing friend over coffee today. He's got an inside line to someone looking to pick up a quick horror script, and I just so happen to have plenty of horror ideas. We bashed out about five quickie proposals in an hour or so, and hopefully this will lead somewhere. If not, at the very least I've made a few more connections with other authors here in Seattle.
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That's never a bad thing.
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Baby, Bionic, Bookwriting

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Family: If you've got kids, then you probably are very familiar with the kind of day I had today.
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After a long week, I'd been looking forward to Saturday in order to take care of a few errands that I didn't have time for, on top of getting caught up with gaming and my side projects. However, for whatever reason, Whittaker was having a really rough day today.
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Of course, all of those plans went out the window.
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He's usually pretty mellow and will take naps in the morning, freeing me up to do whatever for a few hours, but he wasn't having it this time. I spent most of my time consoling him and trying to keep him happy, and the wife did the same. By the time he finally went down for the night, neither one of us had gotten even half the things we wanted done and it was a minor victory that we were able to get a hot meal on the table.
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Being behind schedule: it's a way of life.
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Games: Still absolutely loving Bionic Commando. I must be really close to the end, but I haven't quite polished it off. It's funny, but I keep waiting to hit these "rough patches" that I've seen other critics talk about, but they're just not appearing. It's just fun.
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I really hope this game finds legs over the long haul because I'd love to see a sequel, or at least some DLC for it. Unfortunately, the way it looks right now, both of those things are little more than a pipe dream. Still, a man can hope.
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I didn't intend to do review for it when I started, but I've had such a good time with it, I’d feel guilty if I didn't do one now. Look for it soon, and I'll post a link here.
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Also, a little less than twenty-four hours until we record the E3 podcast. There's still time to get in requests, questions, or comments that you’d like to hear us cover on the ‘cast. Drop me a line!
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Writing: Work on the new book got off to a stuttering start after we brought Whittaker home from the hospital, but things ground to a halt again when my co-author and I decided that we should fine-tune the events at the end of the story. With any luck, we'll have all the details nailed down in the next day or so, and work will resume.
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At this point, we're already past the halfway mark and we've only been writing since December. Considering that my first book took around four years to complete (of course, that's including a couple of major life catastrophes and recoveries) I've got to say that the second one has been a lot quicker, and a hell of a lot less painful.
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